By Jeniffer Garcia
The first time I came to this program, I experienced many things that made me appreciate the patience and dedication of my teachers and parents while I was growing up. Teenagers are peculiar beings— not a child, but definitely not an adult— which results in angst, insecurities, and rebelliousness. Now imagine dealing with a group of them and the range of emotions and behaviors this dynamic entails. Some would be the instigators, pushing the envelope as far as possible. At this point, as a volunteer teacher I would have to step in and show them the importance of listening and following instructions, both important behaviors that promote respect and understanding. After a while, once we got used to each others, things did improve, but the challenges remain.
Jeniffer and the students at her going away party in Buena Vista and Coco Solo.
This experience with Cambio Creativo has helped me understand the important role non-profits can play in marginalized and underserved communities. There is a void where Cambio Creativo operates, allowing kids to act like kids while encouraging them to develop life-skills and habits. It’s much more than an after-school program and its other program areas. Cambio Creativo empowers Coco Solo and Buena Vista to dream, to explore, to feel safe in an environment where they are simply allowed to be kids.
Jeniffer with Mikey, who made sancocho (chicken soup) for the Coco Solo going away party. (top) Jeniffer watched the kids perform a congo dance. (bottom)
I also learned a lot about myself. I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone as soon as I deplaned in Panama, a country I had never been to. I quickly learned patience through my two-month volunteer period. I came into Cambio Creativo wanted to achieve fast results, and came to understand it was an impossible feat – it took the organization several years to transition from a volunteer-run group to an institutionalized non-profit. And, while the education program has been a staple of the organization since its beginnings, it wasn’t until last year that the volunteer teacher program was created. I feel proud to be part of this growing initiative of intercultural exchanges and learning. It will take time, but I am certain that Cambio Creativo will eventually reach their desired outcome thanks to a small, but dedicated group of staff and volunteers who believe these children, these communities, can and must succeed. I wish Cambio Creativo the best of luck and thank the organization for so many numerous experiences!